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Blaming the Brain

Over the last thirty years, there has been a radical shift in thinking about the causes of mental illness. The psychiatric establishment and the health care industry have shifted 180 degrees from blaming mother to blaming the brain as the source of mental disorders. Whereas experience and environment were long viewed as the root causes of most emotional problems, now it is common to believe that mental disturbances -- from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia -- are determined by brain chemistry. And many people have come to accept the broader notion that their very personalities are determined by brain chemistry as well. In his award-winning, meticulously researched, and elegantly written history of psychosurgery, "Great and Desperate Cures, " Elliot Valenstein exposed the great injury to thousands of lives that resulted when the medical establishment embraced an unproven approach to mental illness. Now, in "Blaming the Brain" he exposes the many weaknesses inherent in the scientific arguments supporting the widely accepted theory that biochemical imbalances are the main cause of mental illness. Valenstein reveals how, beginning in the 1950s, the accidental discovery of a few mood-altering drugs stimulated an enormous interest in psychopharmacology, resulting in staggering growth and profits for the pharmaceutical industry. He lays bare the commercial motives of drug companies and their huge stake in expanding their markets. Prozac, Thorazine, and Zoloft are just a few of the psychoactive drugs that have dramatically changed practice in the mental health profession. Physicians today prescribe them in huge numbers even though, as several major studies reveal, their effectiveness and safety have been greatly exaggerated. Part history, part science, part expose, and part solution, "Blaming the Brain" sounds a clarion call throughout our culture of quick-fix pharmacology and our increasing reliance on drugs as a cure-all for mental illness. This brilliant, provocative book will force patients, practitioners, and prescribers alike to rethink the causes of mental illness and the methods by which we treat it.
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David Healy, M.D., Ph.D. "Author of "The Antidepressant Era" Valenstein shows how the current theories of depression and schizophrenia arose, makes the case for them seem more persuasive than their original proponents did, but then in devastating fashion shows where their problems lie. More importantly, he goes on to show why we continue to hold such beliefs that do no good for patients, that are no longer believed by neuroscientists and that hamper the development of more effective treatments... Andrew Herxheimer "Emberitus Fellow, United Kingdom Cochrane Centre This book does something long overdue: It puts psychotropic drugs into historical and scientific perspective without being too technical. It should help prescribers and patients work together and use these drugs more carefully. Joseph LeDoux, Ph.D. "Author of "The Emotional Brain" Valenstein swings a heavy bat at the conceptual basis of biological psychiatry. The book will surely shock psychiatric patients and will lead to soul searching amongst psychiatrists. Biological psychiatry will come out of the controversy that's sure to emerge either badly wounded or much stronger, but will never be the same. Jerome Kagan, Ph.D. "Author of "Nature of the Child" and Professor of Psychology, Harvard University Once again, Elliot Valenstein challenges contemporary dogma -- this time by combining a lively, informative history of the growth of psychopharmacology with a critique of its deepest assumptions. The controversy this book will surely provoke reflects the significance of its arguments. Those who are friendly to or suspicious of the claim that all mental illness is primarily a biochemical disorder will profit from this bold, clearly written book. Michael S. Gazziniga, Ph.D. "Director, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Dartmouth College Elliot Valenstein has provided us with a fast-moving and eye-opening account of why the brain story is but a part of the puzzle of mental illness. He has to be right.

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